When Peter Gabriel walked out of Genesis in 1975, he embarked on one of the most adventurous solo careers in rock. The elation he felt on shedding the shackles of his old band pulses through the pastoral brilliance of his first solo single Solsbury Hill, and turned the first of his four eponymous solo albums, nicknamed ‘Car’ (9⁄10), into a creative splurge.
Opener Moribund The Burgermeister, an operatic vision of a medieval plague seemed a sop to the prog heel-draggers but the rest shot off down a dozen experimental cul-de-sacs: glam metal (Slowburn), drivetime rock (Modern Love) and bombastic balladry (Here Comes The Flood). It was a fanfare of emancipation.
Between here and his 1986 hit So, Gabriel occasionally flailed around looking for a sound. For 1978’s follow-up (7⁄10) he teamed up with Robert Fripp for a homage to Bowie’s Berlin period and the emerging new wave. The record was dubbed ‘Scratch’ not just for the sleeve photo of Gabriel appearing to shred the cover from the inside but for the serrated, air-raid-shelter feel of On The Air and DIY. There was a soft prog centre to White Shadow and the narcotic ballad Mother Of Violence, but too much of ‘Scratch’ dreamed of being on Low. And it wasn’t in Gabriel’s blood to follow.
It was his team’s invention of the gated drum sound and an interest in African atmospheres that guided Gabriel to his first masterpiece. 1980’s ‘Melt’ (10⁄10) retained ‘Scratch’’s menace (particularly on the creepy confessional Intruder) while adding a deranged pop mania to create an album about obsession, madness, war, isolation, assassination, torture and death that you could whistle in the bath.
No Self Control itched like hot pop ants under the skin; Games Without Frontiers turned global tensions into ultra-catchy child’s play and Biko had you punching the air in anti-Apartheid solidarity. His first unified solo piece and UK No.1, ‘Melt’ remains undiluted aural intoxication.
By 1982’s fourth album, titled Security in the US (8⁄10), Gabriel was engulfed in the darkness on the edge of the world. He followed Carl Jung into frenzied African drumming circles (The Rhythm Of The Heat), shadowed native Americans through mystical desert ceremonies (San Jacinto), suffered alongside Latin American political prisoners (Wallflower) and, um, shocked a monkey (Shock The Monkey). A million miles – but just four years – from So, Security was a courageously uncommercial delve into tribalism by an artist who, in just five years, had built a solo canon to rival Bowie himself.